Marijuana Zoning Comes to the Table in Old Saybrook –

By Eric O’Connell/ • 08/10/2021 02:20 p.m. EST

The Old Saybrook Zoning Commission (ZC) will make a ruling on regulations related to marijuana retail after the commission is provided with more input from stakeholders. However, there is no timetable for that decision to be made.

Last month Connecticut legislators passed a bill that legalized recreational marijuana use by adults in the state. Now, its up to local municipalities to interpret what regulations will be enacted to control its sale.

Any regulations related to the sale of marijuana in Old Saybrook are likely to be controversial. While there is a contingent that will be concerned if not outright opposed to any regulations that would allow for a marijuana retail store to open, there are also people who are in favor of allowing the sale in town.

Proponents of allowing the sale in town argue the substance is less harmful than other already legal substances, it could have economic benefits, and that it could arguably be safer to have a store than relying on dealers.

Under the bill passed by the legislature, there can only be one marijuana retail location per 25,000 people. This means only one store would be able to open in Old Saybrook. Additionally, it would be possible for the ZC to allow a marijuana retail store to open and place parameters on any business that requires a certain distance from the retail store to churches or schools.

While the timeline is not urgent, the town will likely establish regulations for the commercial sale of marijuana within the next nine months.

On July 19, Heather McNeil from the town’s Youth & Family Services Department attended the virtual ZC meeting to share some cornerns she had about any forthcoming regulation that governs marijuana retail in Old Saybrook.

McNeil shared a slide show with the commission that outlined some of her thoughts. McNeil asked the commission if it were possible for the commission or for the town to pass an ordinance that restricted things like the allowed types of products, advertising, increased health warnings, and smoke-free areas. McNeil pointed out that many of those restrictions were in place for tobacco products but not for marijuana products.

“I think it’s wise to get out in front of this,” McNeil said.

McNeil said the department isn’t in the business of telling adults what they can or can’t do on their own, but she said she has concerns about the potency of the products on still-developing brains of young people in town, especially if the retail stores are allowed in walking distance of the schools.

“Our primary goal is substance abuse prevention education,” said McNeil.

Citing a statement from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention that says exposure to cannabis increases in areas where marijuana has been legalized, McNeil pointed out that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main active ingredient of cannabis) consumption can result in negative health consequences, especially if consumed accidentally by teens and young people. The same statement also notes that even extreme doses of THC are unlikely to result in death.

Also speaking with McNeil was Marines Rodriguez, a representative from Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an organization that opposes legalization and commercialization of marijuana sale. Rodriguez said that unlike alcohol products, which list how much alcohol by volume is in each product, the same doesn’t apply to cannabis products and there is research that shows the amount of THC in marijuana products has increased over the last decade.

According to McNeil, SAM has heard from legislators in states that already legalized marijuana who regret not putting more stringent guidelines on the bills.

ZC Path Forward

Following McNeil’s presentation, ZC Chair Robert Friedmann said, “It’s not out choice to step in and be the arbiter of marijuana reform.”

Friedman said that some of the ideas that McNeil had in her presentation, such as advertising limiting and product potency guidelines, were outside the scope of the ZC’s purview and thus it could not help.

Friedman said there was a possibility that concerned citizens can make a petition related to the sale of marijuana in town and that if 10 percent of the registered voters in town sign it, it would force the town to hold a referendum and potentially pass an ordinance. McNeil said she has spoken to town officials about the possibility of doing an ordinance.

Friedman said that the ZC has plenty of time before a decision has to be made. A marijuana retail store wouldn’t be allowed in town before May 2022.

“I’m waiting to see if there’s a referendum and if we have guidance from the voters,” Friedman said.

Friedman said that the ZC would seek more information and input from other departments and boards before the ZC initiates any regulations that would relate to marijuana retail.

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